Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Another made-up scandal

I've been ignoring this one for a couple of days, but hot on the heels of the "Paul Pelosi owns Del Monte stock" fabrication, we get a twofer: accusations that Barack Obama was raised Muslim -- and that the accuser is Hillary Clinton's campaign.

The dual claims were raised in an unsigned, anonymously sourced article in Insight Magazine, a publication of the Moonie-owned Washington Times that was so unsuccessful as an actual magazine that it went online-only a couple of years ago.

An investigation of Mr. Obama by political opponents within the Democratic Party has discovered that Mr. Obama was raised as a Muslim by his stepfather in Indonesia. Sources close to the background check, which has not yet been released, said Mr. Obama, 45, spent at least four years in a so-called Madrassa, or Muslim seminary, in Indonesia.

"He was a Muslim, but he concealed it," the source said. "His opponents within the Democrats hope this will become a major issue in the campaign." Sources said the background check (was) conducted by researchers connected to Senator Clinton.

Let's note that even if the claim were true, the writer is suggesting that attending a madrassa between the ages of 6 and 10 somehow makes one a fundamentalist Islamist and terror supporter -- never mind that Obama has been a Christian for his entire adult life.

Fox News picked up the story repeatedly, first on "Fox and Friends" and later John Gibson, who had the flair to bring on a Republican strategist to discuss the issue -- who promptly said the effort could be a "despicable act by an absolutely ruthless Clinton political machine."

But the story isn't true. CNN actually sent a reporter to Indonesia to visit the school. Turns out that while the student body is predominantly Muslim -- hardly a surprise, because so is Indonesia -- it's a secular, public school with a mixed population and no religious curriculum.

That didn't stop the usual right-wing suspects from spreading the fake news -- from the Freepers to, again, Rush Limbaugh.

And Insight Magazine itself? Its response to CNN's story was a classic duck -- "We didn't say it -- we simply reported that Hillary's people were saying it." Well, actually, it appears you just made it up. How morally reptilian.

For their part, the Clinton campaign denies any involvement and Obama ripped Fox and Insight a new one.

And in any case, this whole thing fails the logic test. Why would Clinton's people even be talking to a nutrag like Insight? Even if Clinton wanted to smear Obama, why would she choose a little-known partisan website to do so? Further, Clinton is presumably trying to weaken Obama in the Democratic primary. What part of this story would do so? I just don't see Democratic primary voters giving a rat's ass that Obama spent a few of hs younger years at a Muslim school.

On the other hand, it makes perfect sense for an amoral conservative publication to run such a story. Even if the specific accusation is debunked, it reminds voters that Obama has a Muslim background and quitely reinforces the idea that Hillary Clinton is evil, even if she can't actually be traced to this particular brouhaha. Tada! Both Democratic frontrunners tarred.

If Insight has any actual evidence to back up their story, now would be the time to provide it.

Coupled with the Pelosi smear, I think we're seeing a resurgence of the bad old days of conservative commentary, one marked by conspiracy theories and rumor-trafficking. Such fare occurs on both the left and the right, of course, most notably the left's fascination with Karl Rove and the belief that Bush controls oil prices. But it is usually most marked in the side that is currently out of power. What is disheartening is that it has taken just two months of minority status for the right wing's old habits to emerge.

Shame on them, and shame on conservative commentators and media outlets for their unquestioning acceptance of complete rubbish.

Update: John Gibson remains cartoonishly unrepentant. Just for example, Gibson assumes that the CNN correspondent involved is Indonesian, "probably went to the same madrassa", and thus is probably lying. Except that if he had bothered to actually read the CNN story, he would have known that CNN sent John Vause, an Australian, from their Beijing bureau. Idiot.

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